Treatments for dementia to reverse or halt disease progression are not available, for most of the dementias, patients can benefit to some extent from treatment with available medications and other measures, such as cognitive training.
Drugs to specifically treat Alzheimer’s disease and some other progressive dementias are now available and are prescribed for many patients. Although these drugs do not halt the disease or reverse existing brain damage, they can improve symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. This may improve the patient’s quality of life, ease the burden on caregivers, and/or delay admission to a nursing home. Many researchers are also examining whether these drugs may be useful for treating other types of dementia.
Many people with dementia, particularly those in the early stages, may benefit from practicing tasks designed to improve performance in specific aspects of cognitive functioning. For example, people can sometimes be taught to use memory aids, such as mnemonics, computerized recall devices, or note taking.
Behavior modification – rewarding appropriate or positive behavior and ignoring inappropriate behavior – also may help control unacceptable or dangerous behaviors.
There isn’t a cure for dementia. However, there are some medicines that can help with the symptoms. The treatment you’re offered will depend on the cause of your condition.
A specialist, such as a psychiatrist (a doctor who identifies and treats mental health conditions) may prescribe you a type of medicine known as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor if you have mild or moderate Alzheimer’s disease. These medicines, such as donepezil, galantamine and rivastigmine, work by increasing the level of an important chemical in your brain. They can help to slow the progression of dementia.
These medicines aren’t effective if you have dementia caused by something other than Alzheimer’s. If you have severe dementia, or if you have mild or moderate Alzheimer’s but can’t take any of these medicines for some reason, you may be prescribed memantine.
If you have vascular dementia and have had a stroke, your GP may prescribe you medicines to reduce your risk of having another stroke.
Your GP may also prescribe you other medicines if you have depression or anxiety, for example. If you have depression, you will usually be treated with antidepressant medicines called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors or a selective noradrenaline re-uptake inhibitor.
Depending on their availability, your GP may suggest trying talking therapies, such as the following.
- Group activities and discussions. These aim to stimulate your mind and are sometimes referred to as cognitive stimulation therapy.
- Reminiscence therapy. This involves discussing past events in groups, usually using photos or familiar objects to jog your memory. However, there are conflicting opinions on whether this type of talking therapy is effective.
You may find aromatherapy helpful, but there is limited evidence to support this.
Dementia – Treatment Overview
Some cases of dementia are caused by medical conditions that can be treated, and treatment can restore some or all mental function. But most of the time, dementia cannot be reversed.
Treatment when dementia can be reversed
Sometimes treating the cause of dementia helps the dementia. For example, the person might:
- Take vitamins for a deficiency of vitamin B12.
- Take thyroid hormones for hypothyroidism.
- Have surgery to remove a brain tumor or to reduce pressure on the brain.
- Stop or change medicines that are causing memory loss or confusion.
- Take medicines to treat an infection, such asencephalitis.
- Take medicine to treat depression.
- Get treatment for reversible conditions caused by AIDS.